20 Myths About Gambling
I’m not sure any activity has as many myths associated with it as gambling. The amount of misinformation that’s shared formally and informally is staggering. Maybe it has something to do with the relationship between luck and gambling.
Superstitious people believe in concepts like luck in a way that rational people don’t. This leads to belief in a lot of falsehoods that can devastate your bankroll.
Most of the gambling public dislikes math, too. Since gambling and luck are closely related, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that myths about gambling related to misunderstanding some basic math concepts are common.
I’ve listed 20 of the more interesting myths about gambling below:
1. Gambling Isn’t Really Addictive.
The theory behind the myth that gambling isn’t really addictive asserts that gambling doesn’t have a physical effect like alcohol and drugs do. That’s not really true, though – unless you think the brain doesn’t have anything to do with your physiology.
The United States has an abysmal record of recognizing mental illness. Since it doesn’t always come with physical symptoms the way cancer or heart disease does, people think a mental illness is somehow less of an illness than a physical illness.
This kind of backwards thinking ruins lives and interferes with people’s opportunities to get well.
Not all gamblers get addicted.
But claiming that gambling isn’t really addictive helps no one.
2. Eventually Your Luck Must Change, and You’ll Start Winning.
This is an example of a mathematical concept called the gambler’s fallacy. The idea is that past results somehow affect future results.
With most (not all) gambling activities, this isn’t true.
Here’s an example:
Someone playing roulette notices that the result has come up black 4 times in a row. She might make 1 of 2 assumptions:
- Black is hot and is more likely to come up again on the next spin.
- Red is due and is more likely to come up on the next spin.
But the probability of getting a black or red result is a function of how many red results there are compared to how many black results there are.
Since all 38 of the pockets on a roulette wheel are still there – they don’t go away when you’ve hit them – the probability hasn’t changed.
Every spin of the roulette wheel is an independent event. Previous results don’t affect future results.
Blackjack is an exception, because once a card is dealt, the composition of the deck is different.
3. You’re Psychic and Know When You’re Going to be Lucky.
Gambling outcomes are determined at random. No one has some kind of psychic ability that improves their chances of winning at casino games. But a lot of people believe that they do know when they’re going to be lucky.
It’s probably pointless to try to convince someone who thinks he’s psychic that he can’t really predict the future. It wouldn’t be a good list of gambling myths if it weren’t included, though.
To find out more about why psychic phenomena are a bunch of hokum, spend some time reading about James Randi, who’s spent decades debunking psychics. For over 50 years, his foundation offered $1 million to anyone who could demonstrate provable paranormal activity – especially psychic ability.
No one ever won, and in some years, over 1000 people participated in the challenge.
4. Casinos Pump Oxygen Into the Air to Keep You Alert and Gambling.
Some common sense should tell you that this isn’t true. Think about it for a minute. What’s the biggest danger when dealing with oxygen?
It makes things more flammable.
Pumping oxygen into a crowded casino, with its massive use of electricity and its large number of people who are often smoking cigarettes, would be a fire hazard like no other.
This myth probably stems from a Mario Puzo novel, Fools Die, in which a fictional casino named Xanadu pumped oxygen in. The problem is that this is fiction.
You can read more about this myth at The Museum of Hoaxes.
5. It’s Illegal to Count Cards.
A little thought makes it clear how absurd this myth is. How could it be illegal to think about a game while you’re playing it? Unless you’re using some kind of device to keep up with the count, all you’re doing when you’re counting cards is thinking about the game you’re playing.
Casinos are fine with this myth, by the way. They discourage counting cards as best they can. In fact, if they think you’re counting cards, they’ll take countermeasures. They might start shuffling the deck on every hand. Or they might ask you to play games other than blackjack. If they’re really sticklers, they might even ban you from their casino permanently.
But you can’t be arrested or prosecuted for counting cards. It’s not illegal.
6. Casino Games Are Rigged.
In a sense, this myth is true, but not in the way most people think.
People who are convinced that casino games are rigged think the casino can arbitrarily adjust the outcomes of the game any time they feel like it.
Remember the scene in Casablanca where Rick signals the croupier to have the ball land on a certain result?
In real life that doesn’t happen. Imagine the odds of being able to land a roulette ball in one of 38 pockets at will.
It doesn’t make sense.
But casino games are designed with math that favors the casino over the player. In the short run, a gambler can win, but it’s less likely than losing.
In the long run, the casino will always win over the player.
This is because the bets pay off at lower odds than the odds of winning.
You can read more about this concept in our post about the house edge and how it works.
The math behind the house edge is the reason casinos don’t need to rig their games. The math is already rigged.
7. Online Gambling is Illegal.
This statement is too general to be true. It’s even too general to apply to an entire country like the United States. The laws in the USA are a patchwork of federal, state, and local jurisdictions – each of which often has different laws.
In fact, 3 states in the USA have legalized online casino gambling. The other 47 states haven’t legalized or regulated online casinos, but not all of them have laws on the books making the activity specifically illegal.
It’s illegal to facilitate money transfers for the purposes of illegal gambling, but that’s a different activity from placing a bet.
And even though online gambling is clearly illegal in many United States jurisdictions, no one has ever been arrested or prosecuted for playing slot machines or blackjack on the Internet. Enforcement efforts so far have focused on providers of online gambling, rather than participants.
8. It’s All Luck.
Luck does play a role in gambling, but not necessarily in the way you think. A mathematician would think that luck is just a short-term fluctuation in your expected results. In the long run, things will even out.
But the assumption that gambling results are entirely based on luck ignores the role that smart decision-making plays in winning at gambling.
Here’s an example:
Blackjack is a game where your decisions play a clear role in the math behind the game. Each way of playing a hand has an expected value. Your job as the player is to choose the decision with the highest expected value. When you do this on every possible hand, you’re playing with basic strategy.
The difference between a blackjack player who uses basic strategy versus one who just plays her hunches is the difference between a house edge of 0.5% and 4%.
What does that mean for your bankroll?
If you’re playing for $50 per hand and getting 60 hands per hour, you’re putting $3000 into action per hour.
If you expect to lose 0.5% of that action, you’re looking at a loss of $15 per hour. That’s relatively cheap entertainment in the casino.
But if you’re expecting to lose 4% of that action, you’re looking at a loss of $120 per hour. That’s relatively expensive entertainment in the casino.
And common sense tells you that your chances of walking away a winner are greater if the house edge is lower.
9. You Can Use Trends to Get an Edge On Your Next Bet.
This myth is closely related to the myth about the gamblers fallacy above. Here’s how the thinking works:
You’re watching a player at a Jacks or Better video poker machine. You notice that he’s only played for 2 hours, but he’s already hit a royal flush twice.
You assume that the trend is for that machine to pay out jackpots more often than other games.
But that’s not true.
The odds of winning a jackpot on a Jacks or Better video poker game are still about 40,000 to 1. The previous results don’t change the number of cards in the deck or the possible combinations you’ll see on your screen.
Trends do occur in gambling games. They happen all the time, in fact.
But they’re only visible in retrospect.
You can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future based on a trend you’ve seen in the past.
10. Slot Machines Get Cold and/or Hot.
This is closely related to the bullet points about trends and the gamblers fallacy. Die hard slot machine lovers won’t believe this, but slot machines only get hot or cold in retrospect. Just because a slots game has been running hot for an hour or 2 doesn’t mean it’s going to continue to run hot in the future. It also doesn’t mean it’s more likely to “get cold”.
Modern slot machines are powered by a computer program called a random number generator (RNG). This is a computer program that generates numbers at a rate of thousands of numbers per second. When you press the “spin” button or pull the lever, the RNG stops on whatever number it was counting at that millisecond.
This computer program doesn’t work slowly enough for you to be able to predict where it’s at in its count. It also has no way of knowing whether the game has been paying off a lot or not.
Each spin of the reels is an independent event. Previous spins have no effect on the outcomes of subsequent spins.
11. The Decisions Other Blackjack Players Make Affect Your Odds of Winning.
This is one of the most common myths related to blackjack. It has multiple permutations.
One example is the belief that a player jumping in and out of games screws up the odds. There’s anecdotal evidence from lots of players that things were going great at the table until a certain player showed up. Then boom! The dealer is winning all the time.
This is an example of selective memory, which is more powerful than most people realize. Just because something happens before something else does not imply that there’s a cause and effect relationship. Most people have probably forgotten all the times someone jumped into a game and all the player started winning.
The more common permutation is the belief that a player using less than perfect strategy hurts everyone at the table. For example, she might take a card that would have busted the table.
In reality, her mistakes benefit the other players at the table as often as they hurt them. It all evens out in the long run.
In fact, bad players make it possible for casinos to offer better blackjack games. If everyone used perfect basic strategy, casinos would adjust the game conditions to improve their edge over the players.
12. Online Gambling Is a Danger to Children.
You’ll see lots of spurious arguments against online gambling. One of these is that it presents a danger to children.
The reality is that most online casinos won’t let you get started playing games for real money until you’ve provided proof that you’re legally old enough to gamble. Depending on the casino and its jurisdiction, this might be 18 years old or 21 years old.
But reports of online casinos victimizing children gamblers are unheard of.
Online gambling companies make plenty of money without having to target underage gamblers. Jurisdictions worldwide require protecting minors from gambling as a precondition for getting a license to operate.
13. Online Casinos Are Just Used to Launder Money.
This is a myth promulgated by the proponents of UIGEA (The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act). This is a law that was attached to the Safe Ports Act in an attempt to curb offshore gambling.
Are some online casinos laundering money?
But there are easier and safer ways to launder money.
Laundering money usually works by using a business that operates predominantly in cash. Paper trails, like those provided by the use of credit cards and online wallets, are anathema to a money laundering operation.
I’ve never seen any credible evidence that online gambling companies are laundering money.
14. The Loosest Slot Machines Are Near the Aisles.
This myth might have been true at one time. The theory is that casinos want to encourage gamblers to play the slots. By putting the loosest machines closer to the aisles where people walk, they’re more likely to attract gamblers to the machines.
John Robison from American Casino Guide has discussed these theories with casino managers and slots directors. His conclusion from those discussions is that the changing nature of casinos and slot machines make it unnecessary to arrange slot machines in this way.
The reality is that it’s impossible to find slot machines with higher payback percentages. Even if you do, you also need to account for factors like volatility and win frequency. A progressive slot machine with a huge jackpot might have a high theoretical return, but the odds of winning that big jackpot – which makes up a healthy percentage of that return – are still astronomical.
15. It’s Impossible to Beat the Casino in the Long Run.
Most of the myths mentioned so far point at misconceptions related to beating the casinos.
But some people are convinced that it’s impossible to beat the casino in the long run.
And that’s just not true.
Some games are mathematically unbeatable. These include games like slots and roulette.
Other games, like video poker and blackjack, are beatable by experienced advantage gamblers.
Various techniques can enable a player to get a mathematical edge over the house, which means in the long run, the gambler can beat the casino. Counting cards in blackjack is just one example of an advantage gambling technique. Combining knowledge of video poker pay tables with perfect strategy and rebates is another.
Of course, it’s also possible to beat the casino in the long run by just getting lucky and quitting gambling while you’re ahead.
But where’s the fun in that?
16. Playing With Your Slots Club Inserted Affects your Odds of Winning.
I explained in an earlier bullet point how a random number generator in a slot machine works. That computer program is not connected with your slots club card.
If you’ll think about it, you’ll realize that the casino has no incentive to penalize players for using their slots club card. The entire point is to encourage gamblers to play more by offering them incentives.
Why would you do the opposite?
The only thing playing with your slots club inserted does is track how much money you’re running through the machine. The more time you spend and the more spins you make on a slot machine, the more profitable the casino is going to be.
Casinos don’t mind occasional winners on the slot machine. Those occasional wins are already factored into the math behind the machine.
The casinos’ only goal when it comes to slot machines and slots club memberships is to encourage you to spend more time playing.
17. The Martingale System Can Beat the Casino.
There’s some truth to this one. In the short-run, you can often grind out small wins using the Martingale System. The problem is that these small wins will eventually be wiped out by a huge loss.
Here’s how the Martingale System works in theory:
Every time you lose a bet, you bet again, doubling the size of your bet.
Eventually you’ll win, recouping your losses and ending up with a profit of one unit.
Here’s an example:
A Martingale player is betting on black at the roulette table. He bets $20 and loses. On the next spin, he bets $40 and loses again. On the third spin, he bets $80 and wins. He’s won back the $60 he lost on the previous 2 spins, and he has $20 profit for his efforts.
There are 2 big problems with the Martingale System:
- It assumes that you have an infinite bankroll.
- It assumes that you can bet as much as you want.
In reality, you have a finite amount of money to bet with.
And even if you have a massive bankroll, you’ll eventually hit a winning streak where the next bet is more than the betting limits at the table.
Here’s an example of a Martingale progression:
If you’re betting at a table with a $500 max bet, you only have to lose 5 times in a row before you’re unable to continue the progression.
And at that point, you’ve lost $620.
Also, by the 6th bet, you’re risking $640 to get a net profit of just $20.
Yes, it’s unlikely to lose 5 or 6 bets in a row. But it’s not as unlikely as you might think.
18. Pulling the Lever On a Slot Machine is More Likely to Produce a Win Than Pressing the “Spin” Button.
I’ve explained how the random number generator on a slot machine works a couple of times in the post, but for further clarification:
The random number generator has no way of knowing whether you pulled the lever or pressed the “spin” button.
It lands on the number it’s thinking about when you hit the button or pull the lever.
Also, what incentive would the casino have for such a difference?
This one just makes no sense. It’s superstition, plain and simple.
19. Casinos Can Adjust Game Outcomes If You’ve Been Winning Too Much.
Casinos don’t need to adjust the outcomes of their games. All their games already come with a built-in mathematical house edge that can’t be beat in the long run. This is similar to the myth about the croupier being able to control the results of a spin of the roulette wheel.
Players sometimes win in the short run because that’s the nature of probability. Short-term variance is expected.
Casinos, on the other hand, are dealing with long-term numbers almost immediately.
An average gambler makes 600 spins on a slot machine in an hour. Even if she plays 4 hours a day, she’s only generated 2400 spins, which is statistically insignificant.
But a casino with 1000 slot machines in action 24 hours per day is seeing potentially 24,000 X 600, or 14.4 million spins per day. Even if those games are, on average, empty 50% of the time, that’s still 7 million spins per day.
When you get into the millions of spins, you’re going to start seeing results close to the statistical expectation.
Multiply that number of spins by 30 days in a month or 365 days in a year, and you can see how the casino is operation in the long run easily.
Since the math behind these slots games ensure a long-term expectation of 4% or more in winnings, the casino stands to make plenty of money without ever having to worry about adjusting the results on their games.
The same thought process applies to the other games in the casino, too.
Casinos just don’t need to micromanage results of individual games for individual players.
20. Bookmakers Know the Outcomes of Events Before They Occur.
I haven’t delved into too many sports betting myths in this post, because I’m admittedly more of an expert on casino games and poker.
But this myth is too easy to debunk.
If bookmakers knew the outcomes of every event before they occurred, they’d be far more profitable than they are. They wouldn’t need to adjust the lines based on the public’s action, either. They’d just sent the lines and the odds in such a way as to maximize their profit.
The best way to think of bookmaking is as a market, like the stock market. Lines and odds are adjusted based on how attractive they are for bettors. If a game has too much action on one side, the bookmakers adjust their lines to try to get the action evened out on either side.
If they knew the outcome beforehand, they wouldn’t need to do that. They’d just make sure they got as much action on the opposite side of the assured winner as possible.
Bookmakers are remarkably accurate when determining the point spread.
But upsets happen every week.
Even the Cleveland Browns win an occasional football game.
Most gambling myths are related to paranoia, superstition, or math-ignorance. I’ve listed 20 of the most common and interesting myths about gambling, but you could probably come up with a list of another 20 without too much effort.
I like to promote sensible gambling. This means using a clear-eyed, intelligent approach to the games and trying to maximize your chances of winning.
Educate yourself about how gambling works, and you’ll enjoy your hobby more. You’ll also be more likely to walk away a winner.